by Mike Masnick

Singapore Decides That Only The Professionals Should Discuss Politics

from the much-safer-that-way dept

If there's one thing Singapore knows well, it's "rules." The country, famously described as Disneyland with the Death Penalty by William Gibson many years ago is known for being... a bit of a stickler when it comes to rules. That includes rules that help keep the ruling party in power, as well. So, it probably comes as no surprise that the country's leaders have chosen to remind its citizens that there shall be no regular online discussions about politics among the general citizenry. Specifically, "politically themed" blogs and podcasts will be asked to suspend operations. People will be allowed to occasionally mention the election -- but do it too often and they'll be required to register and then abide by laws that ban any kind of political advertising by the media. The reasoning is pretty straightforward: "In a free-for-all internet environment where there are no rules, political debates could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumors and distortions to mislead and confuse the public." That's funny, since it's always seemed like that's exactly what politics was all about.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Rick, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 12:39pm

    Great place to visit but...

    What a hole. I liked visiting Singapore each time I went, but never could get over the feeling that I was being watched. 1984 alway invoked feelings that outside the weather was always cloudy and mirky. The real 1984 is Singapore. You are listened to in your hotel rooms, apartments, office, etc. Many times I was cautioned to not talk about politics because it is not good. Not that it is impolite, because it is bad for your health. You never know when you will be invited for a fun-filled tour of Changi Prison complete with a souvenier caning. What fun!
    Disneyland with the death penalty, exactly, well said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    anonymous coward, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 12:40pm

    funny, in the U.S., we have almost all the censorship, executions, and government intrusion of Singapore, but none of the upside of clean streets and low crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 12:52pm

    Um, censorship in the US associated with political speech? Yes, we have laws governing fair access to the media, but you can say what you want and discuss what you want... a very important right, and the debate here is a wonderful thing...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    operator, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 12:58pm

    sounds like the US but more open about it......
    living there must be hell

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Rick, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 1:16pm

    Clueless fools

    Your ignorance shines through. You think that because someone else differs with your opinion that that is censorship? You need to get outside of your ivory tower and do some traveling.

    A challenge for the children comlaining about freedom in the US:
    Go to any public park with a tall stool and start talking about anything you want. Talk about how George Bush is a jerk, or how Ted Kennedy is a pickled corpse. You may have others call you names, but you will not be sent to jail unless you cause a riot. The crime there is the riot, not the topic of speech.
    Then go to Singapore and do the same thing. Talk about the president (lord, emporer, demigod, use what other term you would like because they apply equally). Just start talking about how he is unfair and restricts freedom. Then count to see how long it takes before your trip to the wonders of Changi Prison begins. It won't be long. That is not freedom. Singapore is clean, or else. People there are happy, or else. That is not freedom, and if you think it is anything close to the US, you don't deserve the freedom that you have because you haven't taken the time to learn what real freedom is and what the cost of that freedom has been over the last 230 years!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    RenderingSanity, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 1:16pm

    My God People...

    Are you all so deluded that you would draw a comparison between the US and Singapore? Granted we have many, many problems, but you don't get arrested for standing up against the government in a civilized manner.

    Someday we may end up there if we're not careful but we are far more fortunate than the citizens of Singapore. Get off the net and go read a book for crying out loud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 2:05pm

    What I hear from a lot of people so far is "don't complain about it being somewhat bad here, because it's worse in Singapore".

    Now, it's a very well known fact that it's always worse somewhere else.

    So, using your logic, we shouldn't start caring until we all live in an oppressive regime where people are prosecuted according to their religious beliefs and we can't even think about something anti-government without being shot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Tom, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 2:14pm


    I know people from Singapore, and always found it strange that they never discussed politics in depth. I know there are several laws over there that govern what newspapers may be read, and thigns like that, but I didn't realise they were _this_ anti-criticism. Having said that, however, anybody living in Singapore seems to be very happy and wouldn't live anywhere else. Take that for what it's worth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Moogle, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 2:28pm

    Tin Foil Hat Time!

    The paranoiacs would claim that instead of being thrown in jail, everything is simply hidden, and that you can't influence the system. All you can do is live out your little life as a cog in the machine. The government doesn't need to make a show out of squashing you, you'll just be made fun of by all your republocrat peers, you'll find economic pressure and ridicule, because obviously everything's ok, listen to Rick and RenderingSanity, obviously we're nothing like Singapore, go back to your work, don't make a fool of yourself.

    Even if it's a loon instead of a duck, it still serves the same purpose.

    No, I don't believe a word I'm saying, but I'm just trying to point out that the comparison between the US and Singapore might be paranoid insanity, and not just vapid stupidity as you two are seemingly implying. *shrug*

    The point definitely stands though, I do not live in fear of bodily harm by my government. I worry a bit about what kind of future we're carving out for ourselves and our children, but that's not a significant problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    mainman, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 2:45pm

    Singapore vs USA

    Why are people deluded by all the lies about Singapore?

    Singapore is a clean and nice place. The government is a dictatorship, and there is no democracy there. There is freedom for people to do what they want there, but there is always some censorship, and it may be harsher than the US, but not as bad as China.

    I mean if any country leagalize alcohol and cigarettes, they should allow weed! It is also an intoxicating substance, not much difference than alcohol, and it harms your health as much as cigarettes. If people are actually free to choose, they should be allowed to grow their own weed.

    I lived in Europe and I liked Amsterdam, but if any country leagalize drugs suddenly, there will be much chaos for a while.

    Singapore is under a tight contol for a long time, and the education system is pretty good. The people are contended and standard of living is pretty high. If talking about politics is so important, I'm sure many citizens there would leave the country.

    I just find it stupid to compare USA to Singapore as the amount of racism in the USA is so high. If an asian or a malay goes to the midwest, I'm sure people will ask if they speak english and treat them differently. Any minority race that lives in Singapore or Europe in that matter will experience far less discrimination.

    See, I've compared USA to Singapore too. USA is a christian country. They want to put GOD in to text books and creationist are all over the southern states preaching in schools.

    WAKE UP. your president is talking about god, and you call it freedom? only if you are white and christian would you belief such a load of crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    JJ, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 2:58pm

    I think you're missing what is being said, AC.

    Nobody is saying that US government is perfect. There are lots of things that need to change here. (There's my bid for understatement of the year.) :)

    At the same time, the fact that US citizens are able to freely log on to the Internet and post messages such as yours criticizing the government without fear of reprisal against them or their families illustrates an important difference between the US and many other places in the world, of which Singapore is only one example.

    Just my opinion. I could be wrong. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    wiplost123, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 3:37pm

    that sucks

    Leaders that censor like that should be kicked out of office. Governments like that should be changed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    t001z, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 4:01pm

    Missing the point

    mainman, you seriously do not get it. If you have to turn something like this into your "I need my fix" speech, get out of international politics discussion.

    People who say that "weed" is not much worse than cigs and alcohol truly have there own interest only in mind... and only getting high, but they always throw out the "medicinal purposes" argument. It is the same argument I hear from high school kids why they can't drink or smoke (legally) until they are 21 and 18 (respectively).

    Singapore is a beautiful city to visit and both times I was there, I really enjoyed myself. But after a week, I was starting to crave the wonders of home and the true freedoms we (in the US) have. For those of you who complain about them, get into politics and change things -- otherwise, stop your b|tch|ng.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Shalkar, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 4:30pm


    As for as "Mary J huring you only as much as cigarrettes" goes:

    Consider that what mainly does the damage in cigarettes is the other stuff they put in it. The tobacco only hurts in the matter of you are breathing in smoke. Which, of COURSE that in and of itself is bad!

    Mary J is bad not only in the smoke part, but the fact is there are long term side effects as the reason people smoke it is because of the DRUG in it. Some people are affected more than others. I don't care what you say/fell/think/"know" that's how it is. If it wasn't for that drug, well there wouldn't be an issue now would there be? It would just be another plant. I consider that yes you should be able to get it as a PRESCRIPTION, but you should NOT be able to get it "for fun". Get a life. You're ruining yourself and thus any kids you may have. Learn some genetics idiot smokers.

    On the matter of comparing the USA to Singapore:

    If you haven't been there and experienced that country and learned how the people feel you have no right to judge as you have only your own point of view to decide which way you "lean" on this subject.

    Yes one or even a hundred people have no impact on todays politics in the USA. The problem isn't just the government itself. It's that the people don't care about theirselves and are too darn lazy to stand up for theirselves. In the end, they and their chidren will get what they deserve while the rest of us flee to some place better or survive while having to deal with what the idiotic majority has wrought.

    If the people in Singapore REALLY wanted change, they could do it. So yes this is rather useful information if I were to go over there and it's interesting to know, but unless you know absolutely the hearts and the minds of the people there, don't judge.

    That's my opinion. I may be wrong, but I'm probably not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    A chicken passeth by, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 6:39pm

    Ah, Singaporeans will be alright. It's not like they care about what decisions are being made anyway. I should know, I live there, and political apathy is aplenty, with only a scant few really caring enough (so few that they're easily quashed by actions such as the above).

    See, once anyone's satisfied enough and they're being taken care off... will they care?

    Haven't forgiven them for bowing to US pressure and accepting DMCA for a ruddy Free Trade Agreement yet...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    DittoBox, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 7:56pm

    Re: Bah!

    Many times have I thought, forcing democracy is the truest sign of facism. What you say about people who really want change will make change happen is very true. Having your "freedom" handed to you on a silver platter (while the other guy's got a gun, and the other's a mafia boss) then you won't appriciate it. Not very often will that which comes gratis be worth anything to you it. If you fight or work hard at getting something, the sweeter it becomes. It reminds me of the Declaration of Independance, which I revere higher than nearly any other document in history, simply because it captures this essence. Declare and fight for your freedom, lest it be taken away. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    DittoBox, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 7:57pm

    Re: Re: Bah!

    Sorry...the line breaks didn't carry through :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 8:28pm

    Has anyone seen my goldfish? He was in his tank the other day...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    jonn, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 11:07pm

    to hell

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Ryan McGreal, Apr 5th, 2006 @ 4:16am

    Re: My God People...

    "Granted we have many, many problems, but you don't get arrested for standing up against the government in a civilized manner."

    Um, an Albuquerque nurse was recently arrested and charged with sedition because she wrote a letter to the editor arguing, "We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit."


    Notice that she wrote "forcefully" - as in, "characterized by strength, effective" - and not "forcibly".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    eb, Apr 5th, 2006 @ 7:28am

    Forcefully vs forcibly

    Given the level of intellect in our current government, it's hard to be surprised that the difference between "forcefully" and "forcibly" is lost on them. Oops--now I'm probably on someone's watch list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Kim, Apr 5th, 2006 @ 7:41am

    poor singapore

    Poor, poor singapore, if they cannot have intellectual freedom then they will be stupid and unable to compete with the western world...at least when it comes to ideas and overall creativity. Soon they will be a chinese outpost. At least they have great food and boundless but boring shopping. And also a law against oralsex which is good since it is a disturbing act against the order of nature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    aminorex, Apr 5th, 2006 @ 8:53am

    Political censorship

    People who speak out against this administration are removed from their participation in public life. That is political censorship. For example, the no-fly list is used to prevent the enemies of the administration from travelling. Other people are simply killed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    A chicken passeth by, Apr 5th, 2006 @ 11:00pm

    Actually, tho... this article is slightly inaccurate.

    Singapore sources claim that this is only for the upcoming elections and that only, and is not a universal ban one bit. (Considering that the government itself was concerned about local political apathy JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO...)

    Research continues. Still, assuming I'll be involved, they can expect a drawn box with the words "none of the above" on my ballot sheet.

    (Thank God we do not use electronics. Yet.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Harsha, Apr 7th, 2006 @ 10:04am

    Foreigner in Singapore

    I'm a foreigner living in Singapore for over an year.
    I hardly feel any difference in my day to day activities. People are more or less happy with what they have. Though I tired speaking over the rules underplaying them, finally they have some rationality to defend. As long as citizens of a country have no problem, other's perception hardly matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Jeremy, Apr 21st, 2006 @ 6:46am

    I stumbled upon this article by chance and I'm thoroughly amused by the comments.
    I happen to be an American-educated S'pore citizen. It's true that we hardly talk about politics in our daily conversation, compared to our American counterparts. If you ever ask any locals, be it university graduates or high-level executives - who are the candidates for the upcoming election, they'll most probably answer - I don't know and I'm not planning to find out. That's the level of political apathy has been in S'pore for years.
    Is it good or bad? I don't know. One thing for sure, many feel there's no need to change the current government because they have done well (always) and none of the oppositions are worthy to take over. I've seen both sides political agenda and the choice is obvious.
    Other countries - Philippines, Indonesia, etc - pour down to the streets to demonstrate against their governments because they're not happy. If there's nothing to be UNhappy about, politics become the last in the talk-list :)
    I'm not saying they're perfect though (tell me which government is perfect?) and when I visit the USA or even Hong Kong, I do enjoy the liberal attitude of the people. But if we are to choose between the ability to freely mock our government and the current social prosperity, the latter seems to be a better deal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Singaporean, May 7th, 2006 @ 10:04pm

    In regards to post 5, by Rick.

    To add an example:
    Police send it riot squad to deal with 4 protesters

    4 silent protesters, and a whole bunch of riot squad was activated. Can you imagine whast will happen if you try to start speaking out loud about politics? You'll be shot on sight.

    Read more about it here:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    A more rational Singaporean, May 8th, 2006 @ 4:44am

    Jeremy makes a very irrational statement that is common in Singapore: "But if we are to choose between the ability to freely mock our government and the current social prosperity, the latter seems to be a better deal."

    Why do Singaporeans always view it as a choice? Why can't we Singaporeans have both? You treat it as cause-and-effect, which is, in my opinion, a silly assumption. We readily give up our ability to criticise our government in order to obtain prosperity, as the government would like to say. Singaporeans behave as if criticising the government would change Singapore into Thailand or the Phillipines. All control would be gone. People would degenerate. Give your fellow Singaporeans some more respect. Social prosperity is present in many countries that have political freedoms, many (such as Luxembourg) which are similar in size and population to Singapore. I might add that Luxembourg enjoys higher income, living standard, health, and just as low crime as Singapore. Be realistic in criticism of the US too. Singapore newspapers paint it as a crime-ridden, racist society, perhaps to make democracy and political freedom look like the cause. Perhaps racism in the US is only more apparent because they ALLOW racists the freedom to speak. Singapore keeps a tight lid so no one knows how we are feeling. Singapore could well be a racist society too if individuals were allowed to voice opinions. Don't ASSUME that political freedom CAUSES social ills. In fact, viewed throughout history, the opposite would tend to be true. And in Luxembourg, they can critise freely. So there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Majulah Singapura, May 8th, 2006 @ 5:08pm


    oh come on, thats from a really pathetic opposition party, whose leader's idea of freedom in like a child calling the other names, so how creditable is that party? leader of that party is bankrupted and a sore loser ..

    I'm a Singaporean currently studying in the US. I have learnt that in comparison to the US, Singapore is economically stable, with low crime rates and a govt that takes care of the people.

    What the point of having "the rights to bare arms" in the US, when all it does is high school students killing one another, singers getting gunned down when the real meaning of it refers to changing a govt (Pols 15B classes)

    If there is freedom to choose in the US, why is political system aka "The Electoral College" so messed up? When populate vote doesn't count (whats the point of have an election??), when its a foregone conclusion thats is decided by Congress ...

    Singaporeans are not "active" as Americans, doesn't mean we don't care, its a case of keeping whats good rather than "I'm bored, I want a War President" or a President that denies "I did not have sexual relations with her" ...

    Maybe you might want to think about all the messed up points of your country's system before poking your nose into other's backyard

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Thomas Puvathoor, May 26th, 2006 @ 11:58am

    I agree with "a more rational singaporean"'s comments..

    Let me try to make an analogy.. It is very easy to point at the dirt in a House with open windows / doors (or transparent walls, lets say).. as compared to a house with Closed windows/doors (or opaque walls)..

    Now we cannot make a honest comparison between the 2 homes as we don't know whether one is more dirty than the other.. the closed house sure LOOKS cleaner because we cannot see anything inside..

    US is a open house.. People are allowed to bring up (pretty much) any issue about the govt in the open and (in most cases) there is no ulterior retaliation.. With lots of freedom comes more responsibility to be more active in the goverment to make it function properly

    Singapore (I have not lived in Singapore but have visited it a few times) is a great place with lesser freedom and lesser responsibility. Results speak for themselves.. one of the fastest growing countries in Asia, Singapore, I believe has stuck a good balance between freedom and responsibilities..

    I don't believe it has to be choice between Singapore or USA.. Both are good.. one has more freedom (and hence more responsibilities..) the other has not as much freedom (and hence not as much responsibilities)..

    India is a country that has a lot more freedom but results are only just starting to show..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2006 @ 5:57am

    Re: Singapore vs USA

    what a douche

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2006 @ 6:16am

    Singapore is a tiny country with no natural resources to speak of. But like any other world city its whole existence is to make money. That, it's done, quite well. Singapore should give thanks to British Colonialism for positioning it along the Straits as the place to be, with a well educated society that speaks English. It actually DOES thank British colonialism with all of the statues, the Stamford this, the Raffles that.

    Singapore was also smart enough to see what was going on with its neighbors to the North, during the time of its founding, while China was going through its cultural revolution. Singapore (read Lee) aligned with the west (read US) and really became a country after that.

    Lee has said that we will embrace capitalism and free markets (and by golly they have) and we will reject the West's ideals of Enlightement (and by golly they have, but to a lesser extent) and we will make ourselves a country. The US of course heard the first part, during the cold war, and smiled. The US is now grateful now, with 14% Islamic population and across the Strait from Indonesia, for the second.

    As for the issue of public discourse and political dissent of course big brother isn't always watching. Cab drivers have the most dirt on their country- Pay and Pay, Everyday Rob People, ... A cabbie once told me "Everyone knows that Singapore is a puppet of the west."

    Singapore is a fine country. It's managed to do a lot in its short existence, that, every other country around it, with the minor exceptions of a handful of other Tigers, hasn't quite yet done. It made the right partners at the right time to be in the position it is.

    Oh, and Singapore and the US are and will probably always be chummy regardless of who's in power, in the US, or in Singapore. Up the Malaysian peninsula there's a dragon waking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    HatnGloves, Nov 2nd, 2006 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Singapore

    Your statement would only be true if you are refering to the Chinese. Ask any Singaporeean Indian or Malay and see if you get the same reponse.

    You can't be a Singaporeean by just staying there for years...you need to be born there to understand the implications, the brow-beating, the frustrations but also the safety, the contentment and even the love for the country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2007 @ 3:15pm


    I lived in Singapore for a brief while in the 90s and then moved to California where I have been living for the last 10 yrs. Having also lived in other large cities in Asia, USA and Latin America, I would say that Singapore would be my last choice for a permanent base. Everything from the extremely rude people to the sticky humid weather makes it only worth a short shopping or business trip at a maximum. Live in Singapore long enough and you realize that its an artificial city that has been sustained by iron fisted micro-managers. It has nothing original to boast about, no Nobel Prize winners, no critical thought comes out of Singapore that is of any value, and in addition there is no great movie industry or original art scene. Even a third world country like India where I lived for a short while has a lot more original creativity to offer than Singapore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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